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Sky Blue FC goalkeeper Caroline Stanley speaks her mind

Some excerpts from Once a Metro's interview with the goalkeeper about ESPN's Body Issue, her time with the Reign and what's in store for Sky Blue FC

Robert Plummer, Once a Metro

Last week, Once a Metro had the opportunity to talk with Sky Blue FC goalkeeper Caroline Stanley for an article in our Introducing Sky Blue FC: Our Team Up Close feature series. After speaking with Stanley, it became clear that she was full of great stories and tidbits of information, but not all of them could fit in the story. Not wanting to deprive the world of her insight, we decided to share what she had to say on a variety of topics.

On if you have to be a little crazy to be a goalkeeper

Yeah, I do agree with that, 100% actually. I think that it's just, something has to be a little off for you to want to stand in front of an object flying at you at those speeds and people coming in and crashing into you and putting your body on the line. I mean, sometimes our position can turn into a mix of like rugby, football, soccer, and you're just, it's a full body sport where field players are obviously running around and not using their upper bodies much, but I definitely agree that you have to be a little crazy because you have to do things with your body that are so against human nature and you can't even think about it.

On whether people can tell she’s a goalkeeper

I've gotten mixed, I get a lot of mixed things. Like I'm walking around in an airport, I get volleyball player a lot, which is funny because I'm am about 5'9", but on TV I don't look 5'9" because I'm very much like a strong build. But we were joking about this the other day because Rocky [Rodriguez] told me, "You don't really have like a typical goalkeeper's body" because a lot of goalkeepers are a little bit more on the, not gangly side, but have really long arms, really long legs, and I'm definitely more explosive and compact. But I actually pride myself on that because I think the game is evolving and the game is changing and you have to be really athletic to be a goalkeeper as well as really smart, because you have to read the game so much faster, and you have to decide what you're going to do on a player's touch. But I get a lot of mixed things. A lot of people tell me I don't look like a goalkeeper and some people say, "Oh, you're definitely a goalkeeper." But it definitely is interesting.

I do, sometimes people tweet things at me about my body, which I think is actually pretty disgusting that people are judging female athletes' body types. I mean, you can have a goalkeeper like Tim Howard who's tall and lean versus a Brian Rowe of the Galaxy who's short and compact. No one is tweeting about Brian Rowe's legs being short. And someone tweeted at me that my legs are really short, and I just thought that was ridiculous that people are judging others' body types and assuming that they're going to play a certain way. I mean, there are different body types all over the board at every position. You've got holding mids that are 6', you've got holding mids that are 5', so I don't understand why a goalkeeper couldn't be any different, but that's kind of, I could go on a tangent about that. Basically long story short, I think I confuse people on what I am.

On responses to her social media post

That guy plays professional baseball. That's one of my best friends. We train together. And yeah I posted that picture and actually I got a lot of comments on that. I don't know what, I don't know how to use Tumblr but I have friends who use Tumblr and they were saying there was a bunch of stuff on there. I felt really good during that off season training time. I felt really strong, and I felt really powerful.

And I want young girls to see that and to know it's okay to be bigger and stronger than a guy. We're both equally successful in our sport. We're both really happy and content with our body type, and we're doing amazing things with our bodies. And your body is a machine. You have to take care of it. My body is perfect right now. It's not to be super thin. My body's perfect right now is to be strong and quick and explosive because that's what I get paid to do, so it's frustrating when I see young girls seeing different celebrities' Instagrams and comparing themselves when their ultimate goal is to maybe be a professional athlete.

So I think it's really important to be real with people about, you know…I was bench pressing like 135 pounds at the time. My body changes so much throughout the year. Right now, I’m 20 pounds down from that picture, and I would say I'm equally as explosive, but I can't bench press Will right now which is fine because that's not what I need to do right now in this moment. So, I just think that, it's important for me to use my social media with the few followers I have to just keep it really honest and real, to have someone who's not Photoshopping things, who's not sugarcoating things, and I just kind of want everyone to feel like I'm just the girl they knew from high school or the girl who trained their sister. And if I get really blessed to go to the national team level, I never want to feel like a celebrity and I don't want people to look at me that way, as untouchable or having everything all together, because it couldn't be more false.

On whether she’d pose in ESPN’s Body Issue

Yeah, I absolutely would. It's something I've gone back and forth with because I am a very strong believer, I absolutely love Jesus Christ with my whole heart and I grew up, like I said, my dad was a pastor. I grew up in the Baptist church in the Bible Belt. And it's something that I would obviously talk to my family with, but I think it would ultimately be my decision. And I think that everyone has a platform for a reason, and I think that if opportunity was laid in my lap, it would be a great platform to use and explain why, because I know 100% that people would question my faith for doing a nude photoshoot. But like I said as a professional athlete, I can separate...

What I love about the Body Issue is it's not SI's swimsuit edition. It's all these athletes day in and day out showing what being a professional athlete does to their body. And I think that, like we were talking about, everyone's body type is so different. We have Olympians this year who weigh 350 pounds. We have Olympians this year that weigh 95 pounds. We have Olympians who are 4'11'. We have Olympians that are 7' tall. There's no mold that we need to fit in to be successful, and I think it's so important, like I said, for kids all around the country to see that, so I think that if the opportunity did ever present itself, I would do it, for sure.

On working her way to the top

I was never, every team I went onto, I was never the number one to start. I feel like I've had a really long career for being 23, a long career of adversity. Which is so funny. I feel so young and I feel like I've barely tapped into what I'm capable of, which is really exciting and frustrating. I went into high school as the newbie little fourteen-year old and the senior starter saw that I was working so hard and quit, so I started almost every game my entire high school career and was captain. With my club team, I was on the B team and went to another team, was not the starter, got the starting job. Went to the other team that I ended up staying on the longest with Shea Groom and Huw Williams. I was also not the starter and worked my way into being the starter and then same thing with state teams. ODP, I was not the starter for Missouri state. Went in and worked my way into the starting spot. Started through all competition.

Regional team, my first holdover camp I just wasn't good enough, so I went home and trained for a year and every single day for that whole year, all I thought about was making the regional team and I came in and I just killed it cause I'd had a year of motivation where these other girls thought their spot was secure. Actually our regional team played a boys' team and they put me on the boys' team since they weren't very good, and a national team saw me.

So I skipped regional team competition and went straight to the youth national team, where I also had a very long road and was never a starter and we won national right before my freshman year of college at the University of Missouri, where I also went in thinking I could possibly be the number one and was kind of mislead to believing that I was the number one and lost the starting spot and played at forward. And I was playing forward against OU, Oklahoma, on ESPN and my whole family was there and that was a turning point in my career and a turning point as a person because I realized I wasn't happy, I wasn't growing, and I realized that if I really set my mind to it and worked hard that there could be something more for me.

So I made the decision to transfer and a lot of schools wrote me off because I had been playing forward, I was not getting called into the national team anymore, and they didn't know if I had already hit my potential and if I had already hit that ceiling and that talent spurt. And the university of Southern California took a huge risk on me and I came in and won the starting spot by the time preseason rolled around and actually before my first start four weeks out, I had to have surgery on my hand and made it back in time for the first game of the regular season and I, I just feel like, you can either see all these, all these things in your life as stumbling blocks and you can let them consume you, or you can just see them as just stepping stones to greater things.

On her family

My mom has always pushed me. My mom has always been my toughest critic honestly, besides myself. I don't think anyone can be tougher on me than myself and my mom. She saw me at Mizzou and said, "This is not your plan. This is not what is going to be best for you. You have so much more to offer."

And she pushed me to go to a school that a small-town Missouri kid would never have the opportunity to go to. And, I mean, it's going from growing up where I grew up in Oklahoma and Missouri and the small towns we, you know, where I lived the first probably eight years of my life was a step up from a trailer park and we didn't have the nicest shoes. I never questioned if there was going to be food on the table. I never questioned if my family loved me and was doing everything in their power to give me what I deserved.

And I will forever and after that be grateful for the things they did. For finding money for new cleats when they broke. For finding money for goalkeeper gloves when they ripped. Without my parents, I would one hundred percent not be where I was and where I am now, and my mom especially, all the six a.m. car rides and the Gatorade runs and the ice baths and everything and getting a job when we needed to pay for a better club team and somewhere private.

I mean, there was no game that I'll remember more than my senior night at USC against UCLA, and that's just something that has always intrinsically motivated me, is my mom and, you know, my brother and sister as well. My poor brother has sat through so many soccer games. He's eight years younger than me and he's sat through heat waves and snow and that's definitely motivation for me, to make them proud in what I'm doing.

On her time with Seattle Reign FC

Like you said, I wasn't drafted, and I’d be lying if I said it didn't hurt, especially seeing your hometown team draft every hometown girl except yourself. So I was devastated for about an hour. And then I called my mom, we talked. I was with one of my current teammates actually—Domi Richardson, Dominique Richardson—on that draft day, and I just told myself, "This is not, this is not my story. I am not going to be the girl who just didn't get drafted and gave up. I’m going to be on a team this year."

And a couple of teams called me and I kind of had a chip on my shoulder because I felt like I was getting pity calls, like, "Oh, we're calling six goalkeepers in to just come into preseason because we need a third so our one or two are fresh." And I said, "Screw that, that's not me. I know I'm not good enough right now to start." I had a very average college career, I was realistic with myself. I knew on paper, there was no chance that I should have been drafted. But if you sat down and talked to me and saw how hard I was willing to work for it, and I thought, "You know, I do deserve to be in with a team and pushing the one and two at least."

So later that night Laura Harvey called me and she shot me straight, and with her honesty, she won me over. She said, "I've seen you play a little bit. I've talked to some people about you. I want you to come in. You probably won't be contracted, but I definitely want you in for preseason and after preseason, we'll make a decision if you're going to be with us the rest of this season." So I trained and I came in and I was undrafted, uncontracted, and I was stunned with their level of competition there and the change of pace.

I was in over my head. I couldn't save anything even if it hit me. I was slower than everyone. My reaction time was slower. I read the game poorly. I mean, I was in over my head. I came into the best team in the league. And I had a month to prepare for Hope [Solo] coming in because she was with the national team and the goalkeeper coach there, Ben, and Haley Kopmeyer really took it upon themselves. They didn't have to do that. Neither of them. Ben was not, I wasn't contracted. Ben didn't have to do all the things he did to make me better. And he picked me apart from top to bottom, he picked apart how I was moving my feet, how my body was shifting, how I was catching the ball, how I was going down and just everything. And I was so overwhelmed, but I was unbelievably and eternally grateful for how hard he worked to make me better. And by the time Hope came in, I felt prepared to train with her and not mess up her progress for the World Cup. And I could potentially push Haley, who in turn would push Hope, and hopefully in the big picture, that would make our national team better.

I mean, I can't, I have absolutely no negative things to say about my experience at Seattle, with the owners, the coaches, the players. It was an incredible Cinderella story rookie year. To even get the chance to be contracted, to even get the chance to have the opportunity to play in one game, no matter who it was against and what the score was, I felt a part of the family there, and I left Seattle ten times better than I was coming in, if not more. And I came in as just as naive kid and I left prepared to hopefully step into a starting spot somewhere. I mean, it wasn't even the two hours on the field. It was hours off the field in Ben's gym. It was hours of him breaking down film, of Haley and Hope breaking down things with me technically and tactically.

Anyone who steps into that third position there, you have to be prepared to not be a number three because you're not treated like a number three and you're not expected to play like a number three. You're expected to be prepared to step in at any given moment, and I think that's why I wasn't nervous to step into that game. And I remember Laura Harvey said that, she said "Hey, wait, relax. No one's nervous. We're going to win this game, we're going to win three points, and you're going to have your first pro start." And at that moment, looking at that back four, looking at how accomplished all of those women were and how much older than they are than me, could have been really intimidating, but I felt pretty comfortable.

And to get the chance to experience a final versus Kansas City in Portland was awesome. It stunk that we lost, but it definitely motivated me whether I was to come back to Seattle or step in somewhere else. So it was, like I said, an incredible experience from top to bottom, I mean. They're so tight, so tight knit. You see the owners all the time. You speak to the owners all the time. Laura and the owner are the GM's, so everybody knows everything and they're transparent and so, I had a great rookie year there and I’m so grateful for everything they did to make me a better player.

On seeing a little girl wearing a Caroline Stanley jersey for the first time

I didn't even know my jersey was available for sale. I was like, "That's a joke, first of all. Who is buying that? Why is it for sale? I have zero minutes, I'm not contracted." Like, I don't know why they did that, but someone bought it and that's all that matters. That one little girl bought it for whatever reason. And I think it meant more to me than it did to her, but that was a moment where, I'll never forget that. Her parents decided that it was okay for her to buy a jersey, let alone buy my jersey because they could have had Hope Solo's jersey.

And I think what was most surreal was looking at all the signatures that were on my jersey and seeing all of these accomplished, internationally-capped players signing a number twelve jersey, and I was just looking at it like, "I'm tearing up a little bit, but also, you need to keep it together because this is really cool." And I still have, her dad took a Polaroid picture of us and I actually keep it in my Bible and it's just, it's just a small piece of perspective that I like to keep.

On how she ended up at Sky Blue, and how her father’s Instagram broke the news

Yeah, first of all, that was the worst picture ever of me. I had just come from training. Second of all, who follows my father on Instagram? That's what I want to know. He's a good looking 52-year old, and he is single, but who is following him? I want to know that. That's when I found out there's Tumblr and what Tumblr does to this world and that things can catch like fire and gasoline.

But honestly, it came down to me making some very humbling phone class to GM's and coaches saying, "This is who I am, this is how I am as a player. I have one game under my belt, I have zero pro experience, I have no international experience except for being a 15 and 16-year-old kid on the youth national team. I had a very average college career. I have no records, I have no accolades, I was not an All-American, I was not all conference, but I promise you, I will be your starter. One hundred percent, hand on the Bible, on my own life, I will be your starter this year if you give me the opportunity." And some teams said, "No." I had one phone call with a team where I think that I clocked the call at 38 seconds and he said, "We're good here," which I'll never forget. And I'll also never forget that we beat them this year. I'm not bitter. I don't keep records of anything.

But when I called and talked to Tony Novo, I loved what he had to say. He's a really great guy and they didn't have a head coach and I had heard through the rumor mills that they needed a starting goalkeeper. So when Christy Holly talked to me, he also shot me straightforward. We had a few conversations before they actually committed to me and I committed back and said, "Okay, this verbal agreement is terrifying, but, all right, I see that you're sending me flight information. And I'll come up. Sounds good." And he was honest with me and said, "We have an international goalkeeper coming in, and if we can get a world-class keeper in here, we're going to." And I love Christy Holly, but that lit a fire under my freaking butt because, like I said, on paper, I'm no one, but on the field, I feel invincible and that's where I feel like someone and so I wanted that to come out in my playing and, I mean, I wish I got here and it was like, 'Oh, it's easy. You're the starter,' but it was not it at all.

On her relationship with backup goalkeeper Caroline Casey

Well, we lived together in preseason, and so at first it was a little awkward because you're like, both of you…She had an amazing college career, she was an All-American, she was very decorated, she was up for NCAA Woman of the Year. I knew all of that, I knew they drafted her, and I was kind of coming in and I didn't know where I was comfortable in the depth chart.

But we kept everything really honest and really transparent. And I was very obviously unhappy at Seattle in the first game. That was a very difficult pill to swallow coming back there, somewhere that was so near and dear to my heart, to not get that nod. And it was a hard pill for family and friends who were there to swallow as well. And it's so hard to not be happy when you see your team win like that, and it's so hard to not be happy for your friend who had a great game and secured the win. But there is absolutely no bitter taste in my mouth towards her. And it was something that we talked about very openly and honestly.

We are all a great goalkeeping corps with college kids coming in occasionally, with Jill and Maria training us. It's very much a tight-knit group. And no egos allowed. And just like I said, we're really honest with each other and we work really well together and we can break things down with each other and tell one another when we're doing something wrong and, you know, we push each other every single day. And I think that we've developed a really good…It kind of feels like big sis, little sis relationship, because I met her—she’s two years younger than me, about two years younger than me—and we met in high school actually. We met at Dynasty Goalkeeping Academy. So it's a really good relationship. It's unique, like I said. And I trusted her to go in at Portland and do her job, and she had an excellent game. And unfortunately we did lose that one, but honesty and trust go a long way, especially when you're working so closely with people.

On her shoulder injury in the road match against Portland

Obviously injuries you never plan for, and I've actually never been injured at the extent and time period that I was this last couple of months, but I think it was just something that was, wasn't preparation. It wasn't fatigue. It was just kind of a freak thing. I just kind of had a weekend from hell in Portland. I was up with food poisoning until 4:30 a.m. the night before the game and just kind of tried to push through that and then obviously in the thirteenth minute I separated my shoulder on the Nadia Nadim 1v1. So those are things that you don't plan for, but those are things that make or break you as a player and I think that it allows me to set even more goals moving forward….

...I completely separated my shoulder and like you said, I didn’t check anything online. I was still recovering from throwing up everything except my internal organs the night before and the red eye being delayed by two hours was just the cherry on top of all of that, so I was a little bit focused on just trying to survive that flight back home. But when I did finally talk to my parents, my mom mentioned that a lot of people thought that it happened on their goal, that I had maybe collided with Brynjarsdóttir.

But I knew in the 13th minute when I made that save, I knew two things. I knew one, that it was a really important play in the game because it was early on and had she scored that goal, it would have changed the game completely. And I knew two, that I had just heard one of the loudest crunches I had ever heard in my life come from my left shoulder and that it was not good.

But it was a pretty quiet game until their game on our end. I actually could not get my left shoulder up on the goal, and that’s when I knew I had to pull myself out because I was no longer helping my team. And that was the biggest issue for me. It wasn’t, ‘Can I just get through this game and will I be fine pain-wise?’ It was, ‘Am I going to be able to play and keep my team in this game?’ and so on that goal I knew that I was putting three points in jeopardy and that it was no longer a game that I needed to be in. And kudos to Portland they took me straight up to get x-rays and I knew exactly right away what my timeline was going to be and what we needed to do from there. But it actually happened on that one-v-one.

On Sky Blue FC’s success this season

Our team is so unique because we don't really have a home field that we train on. We don't train where we play. We don't have a locker room. We don't have a lot of the things, actually, that an Orlando, Houston, Portland have.

But I think that we kind of made a nonverbal agreement as a team in the beginning that, this is going to be a different year. We have a lot of players. You guys don't know what it's been like in the past, and we're changing the culture of the team. I don't know what their season was like last year, I wasn't there, I wasn't coached by their coach, I didn't play with a lot of the girls who were there. So I think a lot of fresh perspective helps, and you know, Christy Holly really laid it out in the beginning of the year: We're going to be in the playoffs. Our goal is the final. And I think that everyone kind of took that attitude and ran with it.

And I will say it definitely, it is like a family. The feeling unites us. A family is not perfect. A family is not smooth sailing all the time. A family fights through adversity. They have to have tough conversations with each other, and at the end of the day, you love each other no matter what. And I think that's what's unique about this team.

If after a game, if we had a bad loss, everyone looks at each other and says, "We had a bad game. We lost that game and how we played we deserved to lose." And on the vice versa end of that, when we tied Houston at Houston, everyone looked at each other and said, "We did not have a good game. We got really lucky that we came out with that tie," but we were really happy because it exposed things that we needed to work on.

And I think it goes back to the trust and honesty and just being really humble because, you know, it's really difficult to work with egos. It's really difficult to work with people who say one thing and mean another. And I think that the girls collectively coming together and saying, "It doesn't matter what resources you have. It's about what you do with your two feet and the brain in your head. And if all of us come together and work well with what we have, then there's no excuse for why we can't be in the final." And I think that's just been key to everything.